The Self-disclosure of God (Part 1)

untitledSelf-disclosure is one of God’s favorite things in the Old Testament.

Moses is shown “the Glory of the Lord” on Mt. Sinai. (Exodus 33.12ff.)  He is watching the power of God, the goodness of God, the glow of God.  He walked away radiated, with a glowing face. (Exodus 34.29)  What is most striking, is how God narrates the event.  God describes Himself like this:

The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness…(Exodus 34.6)

This proclamation of identity would stick with God throughout the Old Testament.  I had an identity once.  At a birthday party in 4th grade (I don’t even remember who it was for), I was reaching for something in the pool at a hotel.  The party was at ice cream and cake phase so I had already changed out of my swimming suit.  I fell into the pool with all my clothes on.  I never lived it down.  It came up in 2 different graduation speechs, favorite memories from school portions of yearbooks and school news papers, and one reunion.  I will always be the guy who fell in the pool with his clothes on.  God will carry this identity through all his dealings with man.

It’s fascinating, however, how this phrase is used.

It’s worshipful.  Psalm 145 uses this phrase like a link in a chain.  Each link is a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Verse 1 begins with aleph.  Verse 2, with a bet and so on until verse 8 when chet is the letter that is the letter of focus.  The verse begins with the word “gracious” (chanoon).  It’s just another link in the chain of attributes describing God in this Psalm.  Count the “God is…” statements:

  • “Great is the Lord…” (3)
  • “The Lord is good to all…”(9)
  • “The Lord is trustworthy…” (13)
  • “The Lord is righteous…and faithful…”(17)
  • “The Lord is near…” (18)

David will extol and praise the Lord for all that He is. (145.2)  But it’s a bigger chain than that.  Psalm 145 is also a part of a chain that ends the book of Psalms. The last 5 Psalms all begin with the word “Praise” (hb. hallel).  In the Hebrew text, the Psalm titles are considered the first verse of the Psalm.  So Psalm 145 begins like this: hallelujah.  which translates to: “Praise the Lord”.

David loves this word.  Back in Psalm 103, he writes:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. (Psalm 103.8)

Here he attributes it to Moses, but until he makes his own purposes for the verse known.  Six times in Psalm 103 he begins a sentence with hallelujah.  I guess if you get stuck on repeat, that’s a great word to get stuck on.  Both are Psalms of Praise.

There is another type of Psalm that David wrote.  It’s called a Psalm of Lament.  These are Psalms that are written from deep despair and anguish.  They deal with the dirty issues of life.  He writes in Psalm 86:

But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
    slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Psalm 86.15)

It’s honest.  David is piecing together a prayer of quotations from other places: Exodus 34, Psalms 25, 26, 27, and others.  He is lamenting his current predicament.  Which predicament that is exactly is undetermined.  Is it the pursuit of Saul?  Is it the isolation?  Is it the Philistines?  Time and location aside, David prays and worships.  This is the prayer of a desperate man.  The Psalm begins:

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,

   for I am poor and needy.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;

   save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,

   for I call to you all day long. (Psalm 86.1-3)

and ends with this:

Turn to me and have mercy on me;

   show your strength in behalf of your servant;

save me, because I serve

   you just as my mother did.

Give me a sign of your goodness,

   that my enemies may see it and be put to shame,

   for you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me. (Psalm 86.16-17)

David is struggling to put together a few concepts and ideas.  The beginning and end of the Psalm is works-oriented: “save me because I served” (17), “guard me for I trust in you” (1).  In the middle, the Lord is a “gracious” and “compassionate” God.  It’s a question of justice.  Why are bad things happening to a good person?  He’s served and trusted, why are things going badly.  It is the exact opposite question posed in Jonah’s prayer.

Jonah 4 begins with Jonah in a bad place.  Verse 5 let’s the reader know that he went east of the city.  That’s code for “bad times”.  Anyone going east in the Bible is not having a good day.  So he is east.  And when he is east, he prays.

Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home?  That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish.   I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4.2-3)

God did not destroy Nineveh for their sins and Jonah is upset.  It’s not that he has been tremendously faithful to God either; but it’s always easier to see the sin in others than in yourself.  Jonah laments about God’s justice.  Why do good things happen to bad people?  Jonah wants the Lord to know that he knew all along that this was going to happen.  So, in what I imagine would be a mocking tone, Jonah quotes Exodus 34.6 and part of verse 7.  Why is it mocking you may wonder?  Notice what Jonah leaves out at the junction of 6 and 7?  The “faithfulness” (’emet) of God.  In Jonah’s thinking: if God is for the Ninevites, He can be for Jonah/Israel.  Jonah is putting God perjury alert.  He is questioning God’s honesty…to be continued…

Vacation Bible School

20180523_124440Praise Day Bible Camp went by smoothly (outside of the Kindergarten kid who decided to jump and land on my foot). I was in charge of the Bible Story.  I recruited three young men to help me out and to make the day go quicker.  I can’t say enough good things about these young men.  Maddix, Max, and Caleb (with no advanced warning mind you) led small groups and Kagan activities, played the part of bouncer, and people listened.  I guess I shouldn’ be suprised that they taught like Maddix’s dad who is coaching his sprinters at state track; they disciplined and crowe control like Calebs dad, a county sherriff; and when they spoke to both students and adults, they listened, just like Max’s father.

“Like father,like son” can be a blessing or curse.  I was blessed today in sharing ministry with good men, because their fathers are good men.

Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. (Ephesians 6.4)

Graduation Sunday

20180520_154301I got up to give the sermon today on Graduation Sunday.  We had just honored those who would be graduating.  They were in their caps and gowns.  They stood out because the rest of the congregation didn’t wear their robes.  As I approached the music stand this thought crossed my mind:  THERE ARE BETTER SPEAKERS IN THE CROWD THAN THERE IS IN THE PULPIT.  Let me explain.

  • Carl Brunner is a National Forensic Finalist who is going to Washington D.C. for the National Tournament at the end of the Month.
  • Jama Gleue just won State with his Original Oration.
  • Laynae Beneshek gave the Salutatorian address that was compact, concise, and challenging.
  • Those plus Forensic competitors, John Price and Max Filinger, compose a talented roster of speakers.

I have never considered myself to be a great speaker.  I like teaching, but when it comes to manufacturing emotion and passion, I have never been that confident in my abilities.  I am, however, very confident in our youth and their abilities.  In the graduation reception line, I told them there would be one day where I just cash it in and let them handle the preaching…it may just be my last day on the job when the congregation see’s how good they really are.

The Next Step

The next step is always the scariest.  The next step could be the one where the earth falls from beneath you.

Genesis 15 records a conversation between Abram and God.  Abram is getting up there in years.  He is somewhere between 75 and 86 years old (Gen. 12.4; 16.16) and he has been on a journey.  He has been given the promise that his descendants would be “a great nation”, but that was many years back.  Is there an expiration date on the promises of God?  That would have been in the back of my mind.  But Abram now gets told that he will have a son, from his own lineage. (Gen. 15.4-5)

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15.6)

Abram “believed” is in the Hebrew Hiphil tense meaning “caused to believe”.  Abram was convinced.  He seems like a man who can think differently about situations.  Later his name would be changed to Abraham (this is how he will be referred to from now on). This is how I reconcile the strange verse in Hebrews 11.17-19:

By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice.  He who embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”  Abraham reasoned [gk. logizomai] that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from the dead.

The idea of bodily resurrection, let alone individual resurrection, would have been a revolutionary concept.  Abraham is an outside the box thinker.  He has convinced himself of God’s faithfulness to his promises.  Abraham takes the first step out of Ur on faith.  The next step is into the nursery with his son Isaac.  The next one is the first step to ascend the Mountain to kill the one walking behind him.

So what’s the next step on the journey?

Is it salvation?  It’s graduation Sunday.  All across Kansas, students will be turning their focus to college by 3 p.m. Sunday.  Thirty-two thousand students will walk across a stage towards a diploma this weekend.  A year from now, 60%, or 19,000 of them will walk away from their faith.

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4.2)

Paul writes in Romans that it was salvation that Abraham stepped into in faith.  It was right-standing with God that Abraham walked into by trusting God.  The question had been posed: “was Abraham justified by works?” (2)  Could he have saved himself?  To that Paul points to the faith of Abraham as he argues in the previous paragraph:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Rom. 3.28)

Abraham is Paul’s case study for justification by faith.  In a world where love and trust are performance based, the idea of salvation in exchange for faith is a tough sell.  Maybe that is where it should start?

Is it Spirit-led?  Maybe salvation has happened, but “life” isn’t happening.  The Galatian Church was struggling with the same issue that plagued the Roman Church: “What saves a man?”  Was it “faith” or “works”?  Must the faith be followed by action?

Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. (Gal. 3.6)

There is a difference between surviving and living.  That is what living with the Spirit brings.  Paul used Abraham as an example of salvation by faith alone in Romans; in Galatians, Abraham is an example of a Spirit-led/fed life.  He precedes the quote of Genesis with this question: 

So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? (Gal. 3.5)

His answer: Abraham believed.  Great things happened because Abraham had faith.  He pairs this with another Genesis quote a sentence later:

Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you!” (Gal. 3.8 quoting Genesis 12.3)

Being in-step/taking the first step with the Spirit changes lives.  It empowers middle schoolers to raise money to buy freedom for modern day slaves.  It challenges women to serve by making blankets for sex trafficked victims.  It encourages men to step up, step out and lead other men in study.  Is the next step, the same step Abraham took in Galatians; one of believing in a leading Spirit.

Is it disciple-making?  When writing to people scattered all over the Roman world about living as a Christian, one man wrote this in response:

Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. (James 2.23)

It was in the same context as other uses. It was a debate about faith vs. works.  James chimes in from left field.  He brings up Abraham but honors him for his action.  Check out the question he poses in verse 21:

Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did…?(James 2.21)

And you gasp!  Isn’t this the exact opposite of Pauline theology.  In Romans and Galatians, Abraham was righteous because he believed; however, James understood him as righteous because of what he did.

James is a book of activity.  Your faith must be animated, according to James.

  • “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.” (1.22)
  • “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (1.27)
  • “What good is it, my brothers and sisters if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds?  Can such faith save them? (2.14)
  • “…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’  Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.” (2.17-18)
  • “Who is wise and understanding among you?  Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (3.13)
  • “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” (4.17)

James has an agenda.  While Jesus was on this Earth, he doubted.  Now that Jesus has ascended, he is leading a church and a following of people trying to live like Jesus.  His advice:  live like Abraham.

First things, first:  salvation.  Second things, second:  letting the Spirit sanctify and animate.  Finally, we must discipline (notice the “disciple” in that word) our lives to that of Jesus.  Verse 22 brings the argument together:

You see that his [Abraham] faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete [gk. teleioo] by what he did. (James 2.22)

The greek word translated “made complete” and its cognates aren’t rare in the New Testament.  James, however, only uses the idea 8 times in his book (teleios-1.4 [2x]; 1.17; 1.25; 3.2; teleioo-2.22; teleoo-2.8; telos-5.11).  The idea is that “the goal has been reached.”  It is the ending, not the beginning.  James understands that “what he did” (21) was the goal in mind (22) when the “belief” began (23).  Faith comes first, but isn’t finished until follow through.  Belief is where it all starts but it isn’t done until action takes place.  Do I have to be in church every Sunday?  Do I need to pray every day?  Do I need to study my Bible?  Can I drink alcohol?  Do I have to tithe?  All these questions are questions of works.  They are actions that are to done.  We are saved by faith and faith alone; but, a part of faith is “the doing” of something.

In Hebrews 11, what some have called the Hall of Fame of faith, Abraham is admonished for three things.  Each is preceded with these words: “By faith…” (Hebrews 11.8, 9, 17)  He left Ur and followed.  He stayed and made a home in the Promised land.  He was willing to sacrifice Isaac.  He was commended for all these things.  Rounding out the section on Abraham, the author of Hebrews writes:

Abraham reasoned [gk logizomai]  that God could even raise the dead…(19)

Logizomai is the same word translated “credited” in every one of the passages above.  It was “credited to him as righteousness”.  God counts righteousness to Abraham all because Abraham counted all on God.

Easier said than done right?

An Unhappy Mother’s Day

Mamă-şi-fică-în-apus-de-soareTread carefully this weekend: it’s Mother’s Day.

I have spent many years trying to figure out what this day meant.  Is it a celebration of all women, young or old?  Is it just for women who have children?  I have been in churches where scenes were made because deacons have tried to honor all women.  I have been in churches where women being honored took offense because people have asked when they were “due”; implying that they were pregnant.  One must tread lightly.

The worst, though, is the predicament of Hannah.  In 1 Samuel 1, Hannah has desired a child.  Her husband’s, Elkanah, other wife, Peninnah, kept giving him son’s and daughters, but Hannah was unable.  Peninnah saw the wound and kept opening it through mocking and provoking.  Elkanah continued to spoil Hannah, but without result.  She prayed and prayed and prayed for a child.

“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.” (1 Sam. 1.10)

Hannah prayed year after year for children.  Year after year the prayer returned unanswered.  So for years her bitterness increased.  Literally the Hebrew word is mar, from where marah comes from.  The place where the Hebrews could not drink the water in Exodus 15.23.  The thing about bitterness is that it doesn’t heal itself.  The Dead Sea is the way it is, is because water flows in, evaporates, and then leaves the salt.  There is no healing.

Not only is she bitter, but she is weeping.  Back to back this Hebrew word is used: bakah.  There are only 4 other places in Scripture where this word is used back to back with itself: Isaiah 30.19; Jeremiah 22.10; Lamentations 1.2; and Micah 1.10.  Isaiah uses it in the negative, referring to the understanding that Judah will weep no longer because of God’s quickness to assist them.   The rest are not so positive.  Jeremiah reminds his people of the great weeping that will come with exile.  Lamentations, also from Jeremiah’s pen, recounts the weeping of the once great city that has now fallen, Jerusalem.  Micah wants the people to know of the coming judgement and the feelings that will come with it.  There will be “weeping and weeping.”  The picture becomes clear:  the best word for Hannah is one of exile.  Her inability to have a child, puts her on the outside looking in.

“I am deeply troubled…I have been praying here out of my great anguish [siach] and grief [ka’as]” (1 Sam 1.15-16)

She is worn out.  As time goes on, stiffness ensues.  I remember getting out of bed and walking out of the house before it became a 20 minute stretching routine.  Hannah claims that she is: “a woman deeply troubled” (hb. ‘isah qeshat ruah ‘anoki).  Ruah is the Hebrew word for Spirit.  Geshat is the Hebrew word for stiff (a favorite word of Moses for the Hebrew people).  It’s a stubbornness.  She has been at it for years and the flexibility is gone.  Stiffness has set in.  She is so tired that she just needs come home and crash on the couch!  Its fitting that the word “anguish” (siach) here is the same word that Job uses when he seeks rest: “…my couch will ease my complaint (siach)” (Job 7.13)  Hannah needs to crash on the couch and get her feet up.

Finally she is ready to do something about it…but cant.  I have had a walking boot on for about 6 months.  If I have to tell the story of how it happened one more time, or get asked when it comes off, or have another person mention it; I’m going to explode!  The last word in the passage above is translated as “grief” [ka’as].  It’s used earlier in the chapter, verse 6, of the continual prodding by Peninnah (translated there as “provoke”).  She has hit wits end.  The continual nagging by this burden has taken its toll on her.  Every stroller she passes; every minivan door that opens; every facebook post is a reminder that she is inadequate in this area.

THAT IS SOMEONE IN THE PEW NEXT TO YOU THIS WEEKEND!  Every time a special day is celebrated…the scab/wound is reopened.  One in 8 couples will struggle with infertility.  According to the American Pregnancy Association, anywhere between 10-25% of pregnancies end with miscarriages.  Be reminded and be aware that Mother’s day wont contain a picnic for everyone.

The Sea

7bfd144ad54db0b909fd94e25812cdd8“For I say there is no other thing that is worse than the sea is for breaking a man, even though he may a very strong one.”― Homer

Odysseus has survived the Trojan war.  Ten years of battles and ten years since he last saw his family.  Just when the reader believes the most dangerous parts of life are behind Odysseus, he begins his journey home.  They sail home becomes more treacherous than battling the Trojans.  He was nearly lured into a ship wreck by the beautiful song of the sirens.  Poseidon sends a storm to punish him for blinding his son the cyclopes.  They safely navigate the whirlpool of Charybdis, but in doing so run into the sea monster Scylla.  it would seem that the sea is trying to kill him more so than the Trojans.

American’s are bombarded with Carnival and Disney cruises.  But on the backside of those commercials, Discovery runs the promotions for Deadliest Catch.  Now there is a show that shows the sea as trying to kill everyone involved.  It’s cold and wet and stormy.  It’s dangerous.  Peter has a similar experience on the sea.

In Matthew 14, the disciples and Jesus (and a lot of other people) have been in the countryside.  They have seen the greatness of Jesus in the 5 loaves and 2 fish; feeding the crowd of five-thousand.  They were surprised by this, but not in awe.  He sends the disciples across the Lake of Gennesaret/Sea of Galilee.  To the crowd; he sends them home.  Jesus head up the mountainside to pray (Matthew 14.22-23).

There are two types of storms this life brings.  The first is physical.  The boat is a “considerable distance from the land” and there wasn’t a whole lot his disciples could do about it because “the wind” was against it.  Storms can arise quickly, especially with the geography of Palestine.  It’s like a bad version of Gilligan’s Island.  A simple trip across the sea, has turned into a battle for survival.  This physical storm is evoking a crisis.  Scripture makes it clear that one battle that we must fight as we traverse this earth, its the physical one.  Bodies break down, thistles grow, pain and suffering abound.  We have to watch loved ones die and struggle.  There is definitely a physical battle.

The second battle is the spiritual one.  In the mean time, Jesus has walked out to them.  After a few words between the disciples and Jesus, Peter speaks up: “Tell me to come to you on the water.” To which Jesus reply’s: “come!”  Peter steps out of the boat.  The water holds him…for a moment.  “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”  Peter was doing well and then a spiritual storm arises.  He looked around, lost sight of Jesus, saw the power of the storm; and he began to sink.  Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” was Jesus question.  Doubt had crept in and a storm arose.  Spiritual storms can arise just as fast as physical ones.  People deal with spiritual storms in different ways, but they only get resolved at the feet of Jesus, whether or not they’re in the water.

Jesus is the answer to the storm.  When the disciples first had to deal with the store and the confusion of seeing Jesus, it was the sound of his voice that calms them.  They are “terrified” and “gripped” with fear.  But Jesus calmed their fears: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.” (27)  The greek renders the middle clause, “It is I”, as “I am!”  In the midst of this storm, “I am!” is present with them.  The importance cant be overstated.  The One who parted the waters, enacted the plagues, and walked with His people, is present.  “I am!” is with them.  This is the same book, Matthew that begins with “Emmanuel, God with us.”  And ends with: “Behold, I am with you always to the very end of the age.”  Here in the midst of the storm, Jesus is standing next to us.  When Peter begins to sink, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. (31)  “Immediately” it says that Jesus saved him from the storm.  “And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down…”(32)  The physical storm is taken care of.   Jesus has calmed another one.  “Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (33)  Now the spiritual storm is resolved.  

Look back on the storm and worship.  The importance of this story lies in the perspective.  In the midst of everything happening, the focus is on the storm or the reactions.  The focus is on the interactions between the guys and what was going on as the boat is rocking against the waves.  But verse 33 shows that the focus the whole time needed to be Jesus.  It was only when Peter began looking at the storm around him that he began to sink.  But in retrospect, the disciples and Peter are able to look back on their experience and worship.  Some of David’s finest Psalms came when looking back on serious trials.  The greatest speeches in the Bible, with the most passionate language of worship, come at the end of lives, as they look back on years of storms.

The storms that come in life are there to reveal where our focus and where our trust is found.  Peter found out a lot about himself on the sea, just like he found out a lot about Jesus.  In Hemmingway’s book, The Old Man and the Sea, the sea provided a place where the old man was once again asked to learn some things.  Peter is learning on the Sea of Galilee.  He’s learning the why? of worship.

 

Slipping through the Cracks

The “you may also like…” feature on Amazon was created for people like me.  I indulged the other day which led me to this conundrum.

p16488_p_v8_ahIn 1995, America was introduced to a portly group of youth campers.  This was prior to America’s epidemic known as childhood obesity and years before Michelle Obama would take real catchup from school lunch.  The antagonist is a deranged physical trainer attempting to launch a work out video by documenting the summer.  His methods are unique, abusive, and dangerous.  The campers, eventually, stage an uprising and take the camp over.

 

Here is the issue:  How does a deranged lunatic and child abuser pass the background and psych tests to score a job in an elderly home less than a year later?

 Apparently a name change and a mustache was all that was needed to slip the Feds.  Exploitation would haunt him at this job as well.  He exploited and degraded kids to sell workout videos and he did the same at the elderly home where he ran a sweat shop under the guise of rec time.

Who knows how long he was able to get away with it.  “Happy learned to putt” and got grandma’s house back.

He would resurface one more time in 2004 as owner-operator, White Goodman, of Globo gym.  Same stache, outrageous fitness ideas, and jerkish personality.

Tony Perkis came from money.  His father, Tony Perkin Sr. Was western Pennsylvania’s “Lighting Fixture Guys. White claims to have “built his gym from the ground up…and a large inheritance from his father, Earl Goodman.”  Tony did it first, White hit the reset.  Disregard the differing names.  I think it is clear that the rabbit hole may go deeper.

The question remains:  after years of abuse, negligence, endangerment, and welfare atrocities, why is this man working with children, the elderly, and body management?  I think the question should be raised of screening and listening?  Accountability should be taken.  I know I don’t want my grandma sewing quilts for hours on end and I don’ want a trainer that will “add three pounds to the women’s scales” before going home.